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Looking For Jake And Other Stories
China Miéville
Pan paperback £6.99

review by Alasdair Stuart

China Miéville's first short story collection showcases not only his most interesting short work but also everything that makes him work as an author. Fiercely inventive and quintessentially English, Miéville is following in the footsteps of the likes of Neil Gaiman and Clive Barker as authors who cross genre boundaries to create some of the most interesting and vital fiction being published today.

Miéville is not only a uniquely English author, but also a uniquely London-centric one without any of the cultural arrogance or snow blindness that normally comes with that. There's no hint here of his stories being set in London because of a sense of superiority but rather because of the alien nature of a large city. This is where he lives and this is where the things that everyone prefers not to see happen, between the cracks and in the darkness between the streets.

Indeed, Miéville is at his best when he writes exclusively about London. Familiar, dealing with a warlock's attempt to create a familiar and the price he pays for it, is a particular standout. As well as being a genuinely unsettling piece of horror, an achievement in itself, the story is about both learning your place and what happens when you exceed it. Told from the point of the familiar itself, a creature that only knows how to learn it's a fascinating and deeply unsettling piece, especially during the final confrontation between the familiar and a Victorian predecessor that has absorbed countless parts of the city's detritus into itself.

Looking For Jake is another standout. In a London where something indescribable has gone horrifically wrong, the narrator searches for their friend Jake through streets that only seem familiar because he wants them to be. As much a story about obsession and how we define ourselves through places, as it is a post-apocalyptic journey through the nation's capital. It's a bleak, polite little piece that describes the world ending with more of an apologetic, awkward silence than anything else. The Tain, the longest piece, here serves as a companion to Looking For Jake, providing a possible reason for the apocalypse and a chilling, haunting view of the end of human civilisation. The justification for the attack and the descriptions of it are amongst some of the best and most unusual writing in the field in years.

However, the standout here is Reports Of Certain Events In London. Miéville himself appears as a character here, explaining in detail how he received a package of documents seemingly by accident and was drawn into a world of secret societies and something both utterly plausible and completely alien at work on the streets of the city. There is a strong argument for this being of the ten greatest fantasy stories of the last century and frankly, the book is worth the price of admission for this alone.

Looking For Jake is an astonishing collection of work. Varied, unique and intensely inventive this is modern fantasy at its best. You deserve to read these stories.
Looking For Jake

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